It looks like the Dallas Cowboys are bracing for the loss of slot receiver Cole Beasley in free agency. They have already exercised their contract option on Allen Hurns, along with some other players.
Cowboys made four roster moves today.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) March 8, 2019
DT Daniel Ross
Exercised options on:
WR Allen Hurns
C Joe Looney
LB Joe Thomas
And they also are reported to be planning on re-signing Tavon Austin.
It is certainly debatable whether the Cowboys are once again being too cheap with a really good player in Beasley’s case, but all NFL teams have prices they are willing to pay for talent, and constraints under the salary cap on how to spread things around. Plus, it is a business, and the matter of how much money is going out in actual cash outlays affects the bottom line, and is a real consideration (even if we may disagree with the decisions).
But this certainly looks like the team is mapping out a strategy for going forward without Beasley. Additionally, the draft looks like it offers some appealing options to add more talent in the wide receiver room.
There is another factor that plays a part here. That is new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. One interpretation to put on retaining Hurns and planning to bring Austin back is that the top management believes Moore is going to be able to do more with those players, and the offense as a whole, than Scott Linehan.
That is a bit of a Captain Obvious statement, since the departure of Linehan was extensively covered here and elsewhere. It still is worth looking at in this context. Moore’s creativity and willingness to try some new things are widely believed to be part of why he was promoted. Probably the biggest, to be honest.
It is likely that none of the current options, or any new additions, can fill the slot receiver role as well as Beasley. That can be mitigated and perhaps fully overcome by a better use of the players available when the season starts, both with scheme and play-calling. That is Moore’s task now.
Last season started with the Cowboys trying to use a “wide receiver by committee” approach, particularly in regards to the WR1. It failed rather miserably and was only solved with the addition of Amari Cooper, at the cost of this year’s first-round pick. So it is understandable that what may be shaping up as a “slot receiver by committee” approach this year could give rise to some trepidation.
However, part of the failure in 2018 can probably be laid at the feet of the now-departed Linehan. Further, the addition of Cooper was a demonstrable upgrade in receiver talent, and he is going to be around for another go. A part of Beasley’s discontent with Dallas came from his use, which seemed to be poor throughout last season. Of note, he and Cooper never had really good performances in the same games. Again, that is another of the things that led to the change at offensive coordinator.
Now Moore gets to show what he can do, and the slot receiver position has some elements that lend itself to being improved by the OC. One thing that the Cowboys can certainly do to get those slot guys open is to use more of the rub or nominally illegal pick plays. Other NFL teams use them to great effect, while Dallas has not done so much. Hopefully, Moore can incorporate more of that to get whoever lines up in the slot open.
Pre-snap motion is another way to get the job done. Linehan was somewhat notorious for tipping his hand with his personnel and formations. He just did not use motion effectively. Moore can change that by moving players around. It helps force the defense to reveal their coverage, and it can be used to get better matchups.
And a real way to turn that “by committee” approach into a plus rather than a minus is to use all the available talent. Cooper can be devastating out of the slot with his ability to get open, which is a strength he very much shares with Beasley. The Cowboys also have a real wild card in Cedrick Wilson, who had the staff excited in camp before suffering the injury that landed him on IR for the year. Noah Brown is also in the mix, and his size makes him an interesting option in any wide receiver role. Hurns and Austin can also play out wide, and that may be a real way to capitalize on the latter’s speed to stretch the defense. Michael Gallup also can fill in if Cooper kicks inside. Moving the receivers around before the snap has the potential to create some real confusion for the opponents, and find some truly favorable matchups, like getting Cooper lined up against a linebacker.
Maybe it is reading a bit too much into things, but this looks like a vote in favor of Moore’s contributions as well as the ability of Hurns and Austin. And neither of them represents much of a risk, Hurns could be released with only a $1.25 million dead money hit, and it should be expected that any contract with Austin would also not have much cost if the team needs to pivot to a different direction.
Beasley certainly is a valuable asset, and would have to be considered as the second-most potent weapon behind Cooper (although Gallup was coming on pretty strong at the end of last year). Building a roster comes with tradeoffs, however, and it is looking more and more like Beasley is going to be lost because of that.
It is a challenge for the new OC to sort out. The Cowboys are apparently betting he is up to the task.